Oct. 21, 2009
STANFORD, Calif. - The possibility seemed remote at best. Even Jake Vandermeer wasn't convinced. But he sent the e-mail anyway.
Sure, there was trepidation that his request to try out for the Stanford men's volleyball team would be rejected, or perhaps worse, ignored. But he didn't like the alternative: a lifetime of regret.
So, he clicked "send." And waited ... and waited ... and waited.
It's one thing to star for a club team, as Vandermeer, a 6-foot-5 hitter, did at Stanford as a freshman. He helped the Cardinal to the club nationals and was named to the all-tournament team. But it's quite another to use club ball as the vehicle to a major-college program with national title aspirations.
Vandermeer was talented. No question about that. But that talent was more apparent in music and academics. He was the principal cellist for the Greater Dallas Youth Orchestra and the Grand Prize Winner in musical composition. His piece, "Farewell," for piano and strings, was played by the Dallas Symphony Orchestra.
"It's a hobby," Vandermeer said of music. "I absolutely love it. But if it gets too serious, it becomes a chore. Volleyball is the game I love."
But was that enough? That Vandermeer grew up in the volleyball-parched outback of Dallas, Texas, didn't help. In fact, his high school recruiting DVD was discarded, along with hundreds of others, when Vandermeer tried to get Stanford recruiters to notice him.
At St. Mark's School of Texas, Vandermeer was captain of the volleyball, tennis and junior engineering teams, as well as the president of the Hydrogen Fuel Cell Club. In May, 2008, he was selected among 139 students around the nation as Presidential Scholars.
But at Stanford, the future chemical engineering major (4.16 freshman grade-point average) still pined for big-time volleyball.
His club coach, Theresa Carey, first planted the idea, but assistant coach Ken Shibuya had already gotten word about a talented player from Andy Price, Stanford's volunteer assistant coach who also was involved in the club program. And Shibuya eventually got back to Vandermeer and invited him to a meeting in his office.
Stanford has had few walk-ons. Brett Cravatt graduated from Cal-Berkeley and was enrolled at Stanford Law School when he played one season - winning the 1997 national championship - as a defensive specialist. Brian Lindberg caught the coaches' eye during Junior Olympics and played at Stanford from 2004-07. And current junior Max Halvorson joined the team after winning two Hawaii state championships alongside top Stanford recruit Spencer McLachlin.
But Vandermeer was in uncharted territory, trying to come on board midway through his college years and without a high-level pedigree.
Shibuya told Vandermeer the odds were long, but the Texan was undaunted.
"I'd like to try out," he said. "I'll do anything I can."
During the summer, after his day job doing medical research at Dallas hospital, Vandermeer lived up to his promise, conditioning for three hours and playing open-gym volleyball twice a week.
Yet, when Vandermeer reported to Stanford's first team meeting, he felt like an outsider.
"I was so nervous," he said. "They had no idea who I was. But I don't think there was a single person on the team who didn't come over and shake my hand."
During the two-hour weekly individual sessions with the coaches, Vandermeer made an impression. He had size, he could hit, and he hustled. During open gyms, he made a similar impact on Stanford's players. Still, Vandermeer didn't know where he stood.
"Whatever happens, happens," he thought.
At the end of an individual workout on Thursday, head coach John Kosty gathered the team together. It was their final session before official practice was to begin Monday.
"I've got three announcements," Kosty said. The first had to do with finding a ball that was thought to be lost. The second was similarly forgettable in nature. Not the third.
"Jake, here you go," Kosty said, unrolling a Stanford jersey. "Welcome to the team."
To great applause and hugs from his new teammates, Vandermeer was stunned.
"It was awesome," he said.
"You know you made the right decision when the team likes the decision," Kosty said. "It's a rare occasion when somebody takes advantage of an opportunity."
You can still find Vandermeer playing his cello in the music building until it closes at 11 p.m. But some nights you may have to look at little harder. Check the gym and look for No. 20.
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MEN'S SWIMMING: Shark bait
Former Stanford All-American Peter Marshall found a way to take the edge off while competing in high-caliber international meets: Swim with sharks.
A year ago, while on the World Cup tour in South Africa, Marshall met a couple - Mark and Gail Addison - who run a diving business and are world-renowned shark researchers. So, Marshall spent an afternoon with them on a shark dive, surrounded by 20-30 black tip reef sharks.
"It was one of the most exciting things I've ever done in my life," Marshall said in an e-mail. "After surviving the shark dive, the rest of the World Cup circuit should be a breeze."
Upon his return to Durban, South Africa, it was. Marshall set World Cup and American records in the 100-meter backstroke on Friday, and the swimmer he beat was former Stanford teammate Markus Rogan.
The two finished 1-2 at the FINA World Cup in Durban, with Marshall finishing with a scorching 49.40, just off the world record of 49.20. Rogan's 50.52 broke his own Austrian record.
"It's been fun swimming with Markus again," Marshall said. "It's crazy that we go all over the world searching for the best swimming competition and when it comes down to it we're still racing guys we went to school with at Stanford.
"We've raced each other for years and we basically know what to expect from one another. There aren't too many surprises anymore. All the travel involved with the World Cup competitions makes having a friend a definite advantage in sustaining focus for a straight month of racing. With swimming being more of an individual sport at this level it's nice to travel with a friend to all five stops around the globe. I've done it before by myself and it's not nearly as fun as it is with a friend."
The time was breakthrough for Marshall, 27.
"It was the fastest I've ever swum in my life, and it sets me up extremely well for the World Cup circuit this year," he said. "If I can continue to post times like that one then I should be in the running for the grand prize at the end of the meets. Last year, I continued to improve as the meets went on, so I hope the same thing happens this year. I'd love to improve enough to edge out that world record."
And how was Marshall planning to celebrate his American mark?
"We're headed back in the water after the meet is over for another dive with sharks," he wrote. "The Addisons are hoping we'll find some tiger sharks this year."
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FOOTBALL: Sibling rivalry
Toby Gerhart is a senior running back at Stanford and his brother Garth is a redshirt sophomore offensive lineman at Arizona State.
The two schools play Saturday night at Stanford Stadium, but there will be no situation in which the brothers will go head to head. They never have, with one exception:
"My little brother was having a quarterback lesson and Garth was snapping the ball," Toby said. "So, one time, I decided I was going to rush. He snapped the ball, stepped back, and punched me right in the middle of my chest. That's the last time I went against him."
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MEN'S CROSS COUNTRY: Making a statement
Chris Derrick's performance at the NCAA Pre-Nationals may have stamped the Stanford sophomore as the NCAA favorite.
"It certainly includes him in the conversation for sure," Stanford coach Jason Dunn said. "But I don't know what it means in the overall picture. It matters more how he does five weeks from now."
Derrick led the No. 1 Cardinal to victory in the meet that acts as a tuneup for the national championships, which will be run on the same Terre Haute, Ind., course Nov. 23.
Derrick trailed Liberty's Samuel Chelanga by 12 seconds through the first five kilometers, but rallied to win the 8K race by seven seconds. Derrick's time was 23:17.1, the fastest in either of the day's two races.
As impressive as the time was the runner Derrick beat. The Kenyan Chelanga was the NCAA runner-up to Oregon's Galen Rupp last year, holds the Terre Haute course record, and is the collegiate 10,000-meter record-holder on the track with 27:28.48.
"I would have been impressed with his run even if he didn't pass Chelanga," Dunn said. "But the way he ran him down is a good indication of how he might do."
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WOMEN'S SWIMMING: Sanders vs. Sinbad
Summer Sanders, a two-time Olympic gold medalist and six-time NCAA champion while at Stanford, will try to win the favor of Donald Trump on the reality show, "Celebrity Apprentice," airing in March on NBC.
According to the New York Post, Sanders will take on baseballer Darryl Strawberry, singer Cyndi Lauper, former Illinois governor Rod Blagojevich, 1980s television star Sinbad, Poison's Bret Michaels, Sharon Osbourne, actress Holly Robinson Peete, Seinfeld writer Carol Leifer, WWE wrestlers Maria Kanellis and Goldberg and Australian celebrity chef Curtis Stone.
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ATHLETICS: Still unbeaten
Stanford teams have been in competition for more than eight weeks and still have yet to lose a single home event head to head.
Through Wednesday, Cardinal teams were a combined 31-0-1 on The Farm. Here is the breakdown: Men's water polo, 7-0; field hockey, 5-0; women's soccer, 5-0; men's soccer, 5-0-1; women's volleyball, 4-0; football, 3-0; men's swimming, 1-0; women's swimming, 1-0.
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MEN'S SOCCER: The Marshall plan?
With injuries to Oguchi Onyewu and Jay DeMerit, former Stanford standout Chad Marshall could be in coach Bob Bradley's World Cup plans for the United States national team in 2010.
Espn.com's Steve Davis approached the possibility in a column Monday that Marshall could be the Americans' best option at center back if Onyewu and DeMerit are not ready.
Click here for the link.
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WOMEN'S SOCCER: Great description
Graham Hays provided the most accurate description yet of Stanford striker Kelley O'Hara in his espn.com column posted Tuesday:
"She plays with alternating bursts of grace and fury, one moment dancing around a defender or effortlessly carrying the ball at a sprint, and the next moment throwing her body earthward in a tackle."
The complete article can be found here.
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HOME GAME OF THE WEEK: Field hockey vs. Cal, Friday, 7 p.m.
The Cardinal not only faces its rival, but there is also revenge and a division title to consider when the Stanford field hockey team plays Cal on Friday (7 p.m.) at Varsity Turf. The winner wins the NorPac West Division title and earns the division's top seed in the conference tournament Nov. 5-7.
Don't forget that No. 12 Stanford (12-2, 4-1) was upset by the Bears (5-9, 3-1) last month by a 4-3 score. The Cardinal hasn't.
Seniors Rachel Bush, Jennifer Luther, Rachel Mozenter, Marlana Shile, Nora Soza and Midori Uehara will be honored before the game, and 30 alumnae will be honored at halftime as part of Homecoming Weekend.
-- David Kiefer, Stanford Athletics
Ideas for future notebook items are welcomed. Please contact David Kiefer at email@example.com. Past editions of the weekly Cardinal Insider can be found on the main page of gostanford.com by clicking on "General Releases" from the "Sports" pull-down menu.